Denton Cooley
August 31, 2011 |  by Bret McCabe

Looking back, advertisement and magazine illustrator Bernie Fuchs was the ideal choice to capture overachieving cardiac surgeon Denton Cooley. Cooley, a student of Alfred Blalock, successfully implanted an artificial heart into a patient, was the first surgeon to remove pulmonary embolisms, developed artificial heart valves, started the Texas Heart Institute in his native Houston, and in 1968 made the cover of Life magazine for being part of the first U.S. surgical team to transplant a human heart. Fuchs spent the 1960s creating eye-grabbing illustrations for mainstream magazines such as Sports Illustrated, Esquire, and Look, and his approach was to wed a traditional sensitivity to light with a graphical immediacy and loose sense of color that were slightly informed by then ascending pop art. Fuchs brought those tools to his portraiture, where they added a psychological spark to people, like Cooley, whose personalities and accomplishments border on pop-culture legend: Muhammad Ali, Jack Nicklaus, and presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. Fuchs’ Cooley portrait depicts a doctor in the traditional dark-wood setting of an office, and yet the subject looks like he has no interest in being so conventionally defined. He stands casually confident in his teal-green surgical scrubs, arms akimbo, as if he can’t wait to get out of this staid room and back into an operating suite.